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Sky Ape Radio
One man's quest for sanity via truth and music.
Phase 4: 21st Century Boys - 2000-2008

From 1979 to 1989, The Cure put a new album every year. Post-Disintegration, that changed. Starting with Wish, new Cure albums came out every four years. Today we look at the (so far) final three Cure albums released in four year intervals throughout the 2000's.

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The reason this last chunk of Cure has been so late coming is that I had to start re-listening to all the David Bowie ever when he died. Then my friend Jef died and I had to not do this for a while. I kinda had to not do much of anything for a while.
Anyways, expect some manner of David Bowie Re-Listen Project soonish. I've still got 7 albums to revisit (of 30 studio albums by my count, which includes Tin Machine's stuff and the soundtracks to Buddha Of Suburbia and Labyrinth as well as the officially unreleased but mysteriously leaked Toy). I've been listening to them pretty much in random order, multiple times each - comparing and contrasting, letting old favorites wash over me and delving deep into stuff I mostly ignored previously. It's been awesome.

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I hear: The Glove - Like An Animal (12" Club What Club? Mix)

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So, I was in the middle of listening to Wild Mood Swings for the first time in years when I somehow got sidetracked into a Jane's Addiction wormhole. I listened to nothing but Jane's Addiction and The Infectious Grooves for like 2 weeks. It was weird and awesome. I think I just needed a palate cleanser after the soul-crushing gloominess of Disintegration and Wish. Anyway, before I could get back into Wild Mood Swings, David Bowie died.
I've been listening to Bowie all day every day since that happened. I'm basking in old favorites and hunting down live stuff on YouTube I've never seen and giving the bits of his career I'd previously glossed over a good and proper listen. I'm only now emerging from my Bowie cocoon and am ready to post my thoughts on The Cure's 90's output which, it turns out, is my favorite Cure era, if you ignore the remix album, that is.

Phase 3: Mopey Arena Rock - 1989-1996

Disintegration - 1989 - A

This is the one, kids. Correctly hailed as the band's masterpiece, Disintegration is an LSD-fueled collection of majestic goth dreamscapes and suicide nightmares. It mixes the murky textures of Pornography with the lush production values of Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me to create a gorgeous gloom-womb of guitars and synths. Founding member Lol Tolhurst was fired during the recording of this album and contributed nothing musically though the unpleasant atmosphere of his constant drunken fighting likely added to the overall depressing mood of the record.
Plainsong starts out very strong musically with an explosion of sound followed by muttering vocals that get a bit lost in the reverb. Following it is a string of perfect songs - each a snapshot of the final gasping breath of a doomed relationship. Eastern instrumentation comes back in Pictures Of You, Fascination Street and in the b-side Fear Of Ghosts. Every song is gloriously depressing from the self-pity of Closedown to the resigned exhaustion of breaking up in Last Dance to the desperate yearning of The Same Deep Water As You to the title track's maelstrom of melancholy mania.
The only glimmer of hope is Lovesong with its chorus of "However far away, I will always love you" but if one is judged by the company one keeps, this song is equally doomed; its protagonist just may not know it yet. After all, there's nothing to indicate that the professed love is reciprocated.
The average song length here is over 6 minutes, with only Lovesong being less than 4 minutes long. Compare this with Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me's cornucopia of songs, more than half of which are under 4 minutes. Smith wanted this album to make a statement about what The Cure was and it couldn't be more clear. The album closes with one of my favorite Cure songs - Untitled. "Never quite said what I wanted to say to you / Never quite managed the words to explain to you" says it all, really.
I can remember this album being one of the first albums that was IMPORTANT to me in articulating my loneliness and longing. I had had favorite albums prior to hearing this but they were for fun, not for crying alone in my teenage room. This album mattered in a way that I hadn't previously known music could matter. The stream-of-consciousness wordplay in the title track was a huge influence in my own teenage poetry from which emerged my songwriting style for my band Mayhem Lettuce. (I even nicked some lyrics from Pictures Of You for our classic song Lobotoyou Lobotomy. Shh.)

Mixed Up - 1990 - C+

The band took a break from the heaviness of Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and Disintegration to put out a remix album of dance versions of present and past hits with very mixed results.
   The Good:
Close To Me is awesome. It pulls the vox and keyboard lines from the original and adds a big jolly horn section and a lazy, shuffling beat, completely transforming the mood of the song. It's an adorable bit of cozy jazz-pop.
Pictures Of You is really awesome and different. The distant emptiness is jarring given the lush warmth of the original.
Caterpillar's music is strangely subdued and moody for such a hyper song. It only works because of its drastic departure from the original's tone. As a standalone song, it would fail but presented as a subdued, heroin-fueled alternate reality, it's interesting enough to be worth a listen.
   The Meh:
Lullaby is double the length of the original and is a bit deconstructed. Not great but kinda cool.
Fasination Street is just a bigger version of the same thing with some interesting breakdowns of the music but not terribly different from the original.
Lovesong is just a bigger version again. Good but not great.
Never Enough is fine but not as good as the original which is only a b-list song anyway.
   The Ugly:
The Walk is extra dancey and extra annoying as huge phasing synths and twiddly guitar bits pan wildly back and forth. It makes me dizzy.
A Forest adds a big dumb dance beat under the song that doesn't fit the gloomy tone of the song at all.
Hot Hot Hot!!! is slightly better in its deconstructed form (and with thunder sound effects) but the vox are still too obnoxious and cartoony for my tastes. This is just a dumb catchy song and I will never care about it.
In Between Days is just awful. Like unlistenably terrible. The music and lyrics don't go together at all. It's like when your windshield wipers are moving to the beat of your car's stereo. It matches but it's just a coincidence; There's no soul connecting these two noises that happen to be in alignment. I think I've found my least favorite Cure song.

Wish - 1992 - A-

There used to be a radio show on Sunday nights on KFMH called Off The Beaten Track that played all kinds of strange underground music. This was the show that introduced me to punk, techno, industrial, anti-folk and indie rock long before the Alternative Scene broke into the mainstream. That show single-handedly introduced me to easily half of the music I listen to today. After that show was another show wherein they would play a new release in its entirety, commercial free. I used to hit record and go to sleep, letting my boombox capture new stuff overnight. The two albums I remember keeping from this process and not just taping over the next week are Trompe Le Monde by The Pixies and Wish by The Cure.
Disintegration was the murkiest album of The Cure's career, with Lovesong as the only hint of positivity in an otherwise emotionally bleak landscape of songs about shattered relationships. Wish follows a similar formula though infuses even some of the bitterly sad songs with more pep than anything on its predecessor.
The big happy singles High and Friday I'm In Love made this the Cure's highest charting and best selling album but those tracks are decidedly not the highlights of this incredible record for me. In fact, High is a song I skip more often than not. It's not bad at all (unlike the misguided platitude-factory of Doing The Unstuck), just kind of blandly sappy compared to the rich tales of unrequited love and damaged psyches being told elsewhere.
Open, Apart and Trust all channel Disintegration's gloomy outlook to wonderful effect with layers upon layers of guitars infusing the songs with dark energy. From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea is in my top 5 Cure songs. It's a perfect portrait of wishing you could freeze a moment of young love forever but then watching it all crash to pieces. It's nearly 8 minutes long but never feels long. It just feels true.
The album's third single, A Letter To Elise, is probably my favorite single The Cure ever released. It's at once both a gorgeous pop song and a depressing as hell breakup song.
With only two missteps (Doing The Unstuck and To Wish Impossible Things) this is a very solid collection of songs about feeling things deeply. It makes a great companion piece to Disintegration and Pornography, balancing their utterly fatalistic nihilism with a smidgeon of hope. Overall, Wish hangs together really well in a bi-polar sort of way - a concept we'll see explored more fully on the next album.

Wild Mood Swings - 1996 - B+

The first song on the album is once again the best. Want is a sweeping litany of self-destruction as self-medication. It's a perfect bridge from the guitar heavy Wish to the new sound that follows.
Club America uses a strange, deep cowboy-voice and is a bit off-putting. Is it supposed to be funny? The lyrics are super bitter and extra sarcastic, which is, you know, pretty great, but I can't decide if the song is serious or not.
The sense of no-fun continues with This Is A Lie - a string-section led waltz lamenting the complete absence of love in the world. It's a bit heavy-handed, even for The Cure.
The first wild mood swing hits four tracks in with the jaunty mariachi trumpets and dizzy-with-lust lyrics of The 13th. The good mood continues through Strange Attraction's shuffling tale of star-crossed lovers whose orbits keep crossing and into the joyful bombast of Mint Car which seems to be a super-saccharine sequel to High.
Jupiter Crash brings us back down to Earth (so to speak) with its lovers who have grown bored with each other and its droning, echo-y guitar lines.
But the melancholy is short-lived as Round & Round & Round brings upbeat sarcasm back to the table before the album's unsung hero Gone! channels The Top's kookiness with its jazzy urgings to not give in to sadness and ennui. This is The Cure's weirdest song in ages. I'd like it more if it were half as long, I think. The lyrics are too repetitive but the warm, fuzzy organ and the big trumpet solo are awesome.
Numb's protagonist has ignored Gone!'s advice and has completely succumbed to a nihilistic drugged out stupor. It's the bleakest song on the album but is immediately countered with another burst of big happy-fun-horns in Return which swings back into bitterness in Trap - a tale of self-loathing & co-dependence. The effect is dizzying.
Treasure then seems to apologize for all the wild mood swings, urging the listener to remember the good times and forget the bad times. It could be the end of a relationship or a suicide note.
The final track, Bare, is an 8-minute autopsy of a love affair (and maybe of the band itself). Both parties know it's over and neither knows exactly what to do about it. Do they stay friends? Do they part forever? Do they stay together, frantically clinging to their haunted memories of what used to be? It's an acoustic guitar driven piece with piano and Disintegration-style guitar swirling around it but largely lacks the strings and horns that have characterized this album. (Strings do appear for the final verse.) The resigned vocal delivery hammers home the theme of being stripped bare.

And so ends the last Cure album which with I am familiar. It would be 4 more years until their next album and by then my musical tastes had moved on to less gothy areas(Robyn Hitchcock, Nine Inch Nails, Flaming Lips, Ween, Radiohead, Letters To Cleo, Smashing Pumpkins, Laibach, David Bowie etc).
Next time, we enter that no man's land that is The Cure's 21st Century output: Bloodflowers, The Cure and 4:13 Dream - a trio of albums that have passed through my life leaving absolutely no trace. I cannot hum a single note from any of them. I wonder if they're any good. I hope to be pleasantly surprised. I'll be listening to them with no sense of nostalgia at all. They'll basically be brand new to me. I'll also throw in The Glove's Blue Sunshine just for kicks.

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I was only vaguely aware of who David Bowie was in 1986 when my mom took me to the Showcase Cinemas in Milan to see Labyrinth. I was 11 and didn't really listen to pop/rock music beyond what my parents played in the car so he was little more than a name filed in my brain under "rock stars". I doubt I could've picked him out of a lineup. I had just a year or two prior discovered The Doctor Demento Show and become fascinated with novelty music - Barnes & Barnes, Kip Adotta, Ogden Edsl, Tom Lehrer, and of course Weird Al - my first musical love. (It seems odd to me now that Weird Al never did a Bowie parody or pastiche. I don't even think he showed up in any of the polka medleys.) I didn't really start exploring classic rock until I was in high school and was turned on to Rush and Black Sabbath via my friends.
So I watched Labyrinth and enjoyed it even though Bowie's Goblin King character wasn't a cool monster like I was hoping but just a regular guy with a puffy shirt and tights. The songs from that film were my first real exposure to his music and although at age 11 it didn't really do much for me, On a whim, I re-watched it a few years later and really dug it. Not just on a nostalgia level but I really connected with the story and the themes and the music. Plus, Jennifer Connely is ridiculously cute. I started watching that movie pretty regularly in my high school years and even tracked down a used cassette of the soundtrack. As The World Falls Down and Within You have been in regular rotation ever since and remain among my very favorite Bowie songs.
Fast forward to college. I was 18 or 19 and rather arbitrarily picked up a used copy of Changesbowie - a singles compilation from 1990. I immediately fell in love with Ziggy Stardust and Ashes To Ashes so soon bought The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars and Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). I loved the entirety of Ziggy right away. The sci-fi storyline and the glam rock guitars all spoke directly to my sensibilities. Every song on this album is great and strange and lots of them are deeply sad underneath. Scary Monsters took longer for me to love. It was a bit too 80's-y for my tastes at first but I warmed up to it in time.

In 1995, a week before my 21st birthday, David Bowie released his twentieth album - Outside. It's an industrial rock inspired concept album about the end of the 20th century and the rise of "art crime" in which serial killers create beautiful art installations with their victims' entrails and the like. It's a long way from Magic Dance but, like everything Bowie did, it feels very much his. It's quite Nine Inch Nails-y which is exactly what I was into at the time.
Anyway, I spent the next few years gradually buying up almost all of his back catalog (for some reason I never grabbed Black Tie, White Noise or the Tin Machine albums) and exploring them. Some I liked right away. Some were slow burns. Some I still haven't penetrated. (I only finally managed to get my head around Low a couple years ago. Station To Station and Lodger still elude me.) His style ranges from folksy troubadour to glam rock to esoteric electronica to funky soul to 80's pop to bass-heavy dance music but all of it carries the familiar Bowie feel. He's always had a strong point-of-view and an unending drive to create art. His work has always had an air of cabaret to it. Everything he does is slightly heightened with a nod and a wink to the audience inviting them to come along and enjoy the art. I could never have articulated that sense of deliberate artifice at the time but I can see it now in everything from Ziggy to the Thin White Duke to his most recent deathbed release.

He was never my special favorite flower but he's long been a vital ingredient in the soil of my music garden. His influence on my favorite bands is immeasurable. I can hear him in Carter USM, The Indelicates, The Dresden Dolls, Electric Six, Nine Inch Nails, Dramarama, The Cure, Molly Lewis, Abdoujaparov, Flight Of The Conchords, Smashing Pumpkins, Robyn Hitchcock, Marian Call, Art Brut, Nirvana, Bauhaus, Jonathan Coulton, Hedwig and countless others.
I've grown to dig most of his stuff but still love Outside and Ziggy the best. I've been listening to random chunks of his discography all week and it's rekindled something. I'm looking forward to trying again to pry open the secrets of the Berlin Trilogy and maybe even coming to appreciate his 80's dance-pop phase. Maybe. Oh, and I'll definitely be getting my hands on those three missing albums ASAP. I feel an epic re-listen project coming on.

Goodbye Mr. Bowie.
Ashes to ashes.

P.S. Say "hey" to Mr. Rickman for me. And Mr. Kilmister. And Ms. Cole.

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I hear: David Bowie - Loving The Alien | Powered by Last.fm

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I was thinking of the new Star Wars movie last night and it occured to me that the basic outline of the plot lines up pretty well with that of A New Hope. Under the cut is a summary of Episode IV that happens to spoil lots of stuff about Episode VII.
SPOILERSCollapse )
As for my review, the new Star Wars flick is great. I mean, the bar was set very low so that's not surprising but it is very refreshing to see a GOOD Star Wars movie again. It didn't reference the prequels at all. It didn't break canon anywhere that I noticed. It had well-written characters with sensible motivations and story arcs interacting with each other in a realistic fashion and developing believable relationships.
Also, it was really fun. Annah and I both give it 8/10. I'd rank it right alongside ROTJ.
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I've been preparing for the 3rd entry in my Cure Re-Listen Project by listening to Disintegration, Mixed Up and Wish. Next week, I'll tackle Wild Mood Swings (and relevant b-sides, many of which I remember liking quite a lot) and then I'll be ready to post.

Meanwhile, I've been tempering The Cure by listening to lots of Jane's Addiction. I had never heard their first, self-titled, mostly live but with overdubs and edits made in the studio album before. It's not too shabby. I also learned that they put out an album in 2003 called Strays. Somehow, this never made it onto my radar. Perhaps with that title I assumed it was a collection of b-sides and live tracks and the like. Anyway, it's a weird juxtaposition to have the uber-goth band's gothiest work alongside the 90's funk metal that was coming out at the same time.
I also dug out both of my Infectious Grooves albums. I haven't listened to them in probably 20 years. For those who don't know, they were a supergroup of sorts - basically just Suicidal Tendencies but with the drummer from Jane's Addiction - doing weird silly funk songs interspersed with comedy skits featuring an easily-agitated cartoon lizard-man named Sarsippius. This predates The Gorillaz' cartoon band member schtick by at least a decade.
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Phase 2: Gloom-Pop - 1983-1987

After the goth-rock trilogy of Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography, The Cure spent the rest of the 80's churning out a string of significantly less gloomy pop hits (in the UK anyway; the US basically ignored The Cure until Disintegration hit in 1989).
Bassist Simon Gallup left the band after Pornography, leaving The Cure a 2-piece band - Robert Smith and Lol Tolhurst. This diminished lineup released a pair of super-upbeat pop singles - Let's Go To Bed and The Walk.
At the same time, Smith officially joined Siouxsie and the Banshees (a band he'd been playing in off and on since 1979) but Siouxsie and drummer Budgie put the band on hiatus to record a side project (The Creatures) leaving Smith and Banshees bassist Steven Severin on their own. They decided to form their own side project called The Glove and recorded a psychedelic-tinged album of synthesizer-heavy dance music called Blue Sunshine. It's pretty good and maybe I'll circle back to it when I'm done reviewing the proper Cure albums.
Smith returned to The Cure (still just him and Lol) and recorded another upbeat single - The Lovecats - with The Glove's drummer, Andy Anderson. Smith kept him in the band for their next album...

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Next time: I re-listen to Disintegration, Mixed Up, Wish and Wild Mood Swings - all of which I remember enjoying quite a lot though it's been years since I've heard most of this stuff. How exciting!

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I recently went back and re-read my in depth reviews of Blue Öyster Cult's discography and all my 90's grunge albums and I decided it has been too long since I've done a big re-listen project. I thought about a few different bands that I worshipped in my high school and college years - They Might Be Giants, Smashing Pumpkins, Black Sabbath,  King Missile - but decided on everyone's favorite goth band: The Cure.
I was introduced to The Cure by bobmanasco in or about 1990. Disintegration and Mixed Up became the soundtrack to many of our gatherings as my entire group of friends discovered this yowling lipstick-smeared band with the goth guitars and Robert Smith's over-the-top despondent lyrics. Disintegration was the first Cure I heard but the first music of theirs I owned was the singles collection Standing On A Beach. The cassette version had all the singles on side 1 and all the b-sides on side 2. I remember being disappointed when I got the CD and it was missing all the b-sides.
The Cure released a handful of singles (Killing An Arab, Boys Don't Cry and Jumping Someone Else's Train) before their debut album was released. The version I'm reviewing is the original UK release which does include any of those singles. They'll be covered later when I tackle Standing On A Beach, b-sides and alle

But first, we must start at the beginning.Collapse )

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I consumed a lot of video this weekend.

I've been watching season 5 of The Venture Bros and marathon'd 3 episodes last night. That show continues to raise the bar every year for what animation for grown-ups can do. It is phenomenally cool and always hilarious.

Speaking of hilarious, I finished the current batch of Comedy Bang Bang episodes Netflix has on offer. It's a surreal 22 minute distillation of the 90-120 minute fake interview podcast of the same name. Wacky characters, self-aware talk show parodies and sketch comedy abound. It's not as good as the podcast but provides quick bites of weird comedy and anything that puts Paul F. Tompkins on television is a good thing.

Speaking of good things, I also finished the second season of House Of Cards. Much like Breaking Bad before it, this show is an ultra-compelling tale of very bad people doing very bad things to each other. There's no redemption in sight for anyone and it's delicious. Every character is a monster.

Speaking of monsters, Gayle and I started Jekyll, the UK mini-series from a few years back. I watched it when it came out and have been longing to revisit it. It's a really fun modern-day telling of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story from Stephen Moffatt, the man who brought you Sherlock and some of the best Doctor Who episodes (The Empty Child, The Girl In The Fireplace, Blink, Let's Kill Hitler, etc).

Speaking of killing, Gayle and I watched Dredd - the Karl Urban Judge Dredd movie. It's way darker and less campy than the Sly Stallone version. I'm not overly familiar with the comics, having only read a handful, but this film seemed more accurate if not to the story than at least to the atmosphere of the source material. It was a pretty fun movie though not one I probably ever need to watch again.

Speaking of watching stuff again, we watched Frozen Sunday afternoon despite having just watched it on Wednesday. This is the sort of thing that happens when you have a 5 year old.

Speaking of having a 5 year old, I've been showing Willow The Muppet Show. So far Pigs In Space is her favorite recurring bit.

Speaking of recurring bits...

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I hear: Comedy Bang Bang - 278 Only Tones | Powered by Last.fm

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Hi LJ.
It's been a while.

Apropos of nothing, here's a list of media I've consumed:

I just finished reading Stephen King's IT along with a bunch of comics including Grant Morrison's run of JLA and my friend Chris Lackey's book Transreality. I'm now reading Ready Player One which will be the 64th book I finish in 2013.
I really liked IT right up until the end when suddenly, out of nowhere, for absolutely no logical reason and doing nothing to further the plot in any way beyond the most flimsy of excuses, the main characters all have sex. The main characters, I will remind you, are 11 year old children. The 11 year old girl takes each boy's virginity in turn, giving up her own in the process. It's supposed to be a link between the 1958 story and the 1984 story and show the closeness and love these characters share but in the end it's still an 11 year old girl fucking a half dozen 11 year old boys and is totally gross and foul beyond any of the murders the naughty Were-Clown-Spider From Beyond the Stars commits elsewhere in the book. Maybe if I weren't the father of an 11 year old girl I would see it differently but mostly it feels crammed in because the author felt like making a bunch of 11 year old kids fuck.

My wife and I just finished Mad Men season 5 and are now watching Parenthood together.
I just finished Fringe season 3 and will watch the newly Netflixable Breaking Bad episodes before hitting season 4.
We were watching Justice League with Willow. We finished that up and have moved on to Justice League Unlimited. I'm excited to see Aztek in the lineup. I hope he gets more than a cameo as the show progresses.

Who the hell's got the time to see movies? I hope to maybe see Pacific Rim before it leaves theaters but I'm not counting on that opportunity arriving. Ditto for World's End. I AM however going to see Rifftrax skewer Starship Troopers tomorrow night. This will be my fourth Rifftrax show and they're always an amazingly good time.

I haven't listened to a lot of music lately but the new Doubleclicks album is great and the Journeymen album is amazing. I just got the new Kabuto The Python album but haven't listened to it yet. I'm only in it for the Schaffer The Darklord guest verses but perhaps he'll surprise me. Talking of which, STD has a new album coming out soon and I am BEYOND EXCITED about it. Also beyond exciting? A new Indelicates EP is on the cusp of release as well. YES!

My two new favorite podcasts are The Indelicates Live Jukebox Podcast and Welcome To Night Vale.

My throat hurts. I blame my 4 year old. She's been sniffly and coughy this week.

Is it October yet?

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I hear: John Hodgman - Reckless Endungeonment | Powered by Last.fm

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Here is a playlist of my favorite tracks from the recently reviewed Cure tribute albums.

Here are the highlights from the Nine Inch Nails tributes.

And here are my favorite Radiohead tracks from those tribute albums.

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